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Hindi 'Comaraderie' and Communist Cosmopolitanism

Harish Trivedi

Edited by Ramesh Gajanan Muktibodh and Ashok Vajpeyi
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 376, Rs. 450.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 9 September 2008

In his preface to this book, Ashok Vajpeyi characterizes Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh as a Hindi poet who earned ‘posthumous pre-eminence’. Therein hangs a tale in this cryptic phrase, indeed a modern literary saga, which is known to all in Hindi but may need explaining in English. Muktibodh was 46 when he died on 11 September 1964 after suffering a paralytic stroke in February that year. Following urgent petitions by numerous Hindi writers, Muktibodh was in March brought from Rajnandgaon, where he taught in a college, to a hospital in Bhopal at the intervention of then Chief Minister, D. P. Mishra, who was also a litterateur. In June, at the intervention of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, he was admitted to the AIIMS in New Delhi where he lingered in a state of coma for another three months. Meanwhile, several volumes of his work were hastily sent to press including the first collection of his poems, Chand ka Munh Terha Hai (The Moon has a Crooked Face), which appeared a fortnight after he died. His reputation and influence have not stopped growing ever since, and he is now widely regarded as one of the greatest Hindi poets of the twentieth century.   There is a romantic aura to this legend of an indigent poet dying relatively young and still at the beginning of his publishing career, despite late attempts by friends and even the state to save him. But Muktibodh was anything but a romantic poet. He is in fact regarded as the iconic poet of the political Left in Hindi, notwithstanding an element of sonorous Sanskritic obscurity and dark dramatic mystery at the heart of his poetry. He was certainly a very well read and insightful Marxist critic of literature and culture. Of the two books of his published in his life-time, one offers a trenchant ‘civilizational critique’ of a revered modern Hindi epic, and the other, a school text-book, was actually banned by the state government on grounds that were later upheld by the High Court.   Such radical commitment nurtured in the midst of material adversity forms a keynote of the present volume in which are collected 306 letters spanning nearly three decades, from 1936 to 1964 written to Muktibodh by 46 friends and relatives of his. His major correspondents are nearly all of the same progressive persuasion and as they carry on, idealistically struggling, suffering for their convictions and often feeling besieged and beleaguered through those ...

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